On Pointe: The Art of Hiplet | An Interview with Homer Bryant

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

I've always loved ballet, especially as a little girl. However, it was hip hop classes I ended up taking, so when I first saw a video that went viral in 2016 of a dance called Hiplet (a combination of hip hop and ballet dancing), I was blown away. For years, I watched the Youtube interviews, Instagram videos and made sure to keep myself updated with what the ballerinas are up to. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Homer Bryant, the man who made Hiplet happen. Here's what we spoke about.

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us, Mr. Bryant! While many of our team members are familiar with you, could you please tell us more about who you are and what the values of the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center are about?

My name is Homer Hans Bryant founder and artistic director of the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center, and the creator of Hiplet. CMDC’s mission is to provide high quality dance training and performance in an environment that celebrates the diversity of its students and the community. 

Hiplet was previously called rap ballet and CMDC is the only studio in the world that teaches it. How did you discover Hiplet and how did you know it was something you wanted to teach?

Hiplet was born out of my rap ballet. In the 90s, I created a style where my dancers would perform the running man and other popular styles of dance, set to rap music. This was the start of the idea to fuse culturally relevant music and dance to classical ballet. In 2005, once again staying relevant, I started to play around with different hip hop moves which led me to the development and the 2009 trademark of the Hiplet techniques. Again cultural awareness and staying relevant with our youth was the stimulant for this action. I realized it would be more exciting than my rap ballet, it would instead transcend the rap ballet. Hiplet then became the conduit that would allow CMDC to rise to a whole new level. 

What was it like to teach Hiplet for the first time - were the parents of the dancers skeptical as it was a relatively new concept? Because of the history and popularity of the rap ballet, teaching Hiplet for the first time was pure joy, fun, and entertaining for the students as well as the parents. Everyone was elated.

Aside from Hip Hop and Ballet, are there other dance styles that are fused into Hiplet?

Hiplet is fused with African, West Indian, Latin, Jazz, Contemporary, and Urban Dance styles. It is a plethora of all dance forms that we see fit. 

Hiplet uses Pointe. How do you find a balance between following the rules of Pointe to ensure protection against injury while still following movements that are also a style of Hip Hop?

Hiplet ballerinas are constantly and consistently strengthening their ankles and metatarsals. We use pointe shoes in a way not previously engaged. When you know how to do what we do, you too will be empowered far beyond what you thought was possible to do on pointe. For Hiplet we pull back in our ankles for some movements and we are over in our box for others. That training only happens here. We are the descendents of a strong people. 

Due to the Coronavirus, classes had to be closed down but you’re opening up next week on 22 June! Will there be a limited number of students who attend or how does it work with regulating classes? Due to Covid-19, we have been doing classes on Zoom. We will continue to do this and we will open next week with a limited number of students, nine per class with one teacher each, with a total of 36 students. The Hiplet Ballerinas have been rehearsing on Zoom for the last ten weeks. 

For fans of Hiplet, are we still able to register for online classes via Zoom?

We have not been providing online classes for Hiplet. Due to safety being our first concern we do not teach online classes for this dance form.  Although from time to time we have done some demonstrations. 

Aside from financial contribution, are there other ways we are able to support the continuation of Hiplet due to the Coronavirus lockdown?

We have lost close to $90,000 due to Covid-19 and the cancelation of the Hiplet Ballerina and Company Tour. As we are a 501c(3), not-for-profit organization, your contribution will help train future dancers of which there are many multicultural students whose dreams are to be future Hiplet Ballerinas. Financial contribution would be strongly appreciated. You can also help by continuing to spread the word. Please see link below. 

Lastly, we noticed that many of your Hiplet dancers wear Pointe shoes which match their skin tone. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has highlighted how ballet dancers have had to cake their shoes with foundation in order to achieve a shoe colour that matches their own. Eric Underwood, a dancer for the Royal Ballet has taken to Instagram to show how he does so and after various petitions, companies like Bloch have recently diversified their shade range. Do you think it is important for Hiplet dancers to have shoes that match their skin tone (unless of course they choose to wear the traditional pink slipper)?

It is vitally important to me that the Hiplet ballerinas wear tights and shoes that match their skin tone. It represents who they are in totality. The success of Hiplet has created role models for youth where there has been a void. For people of color to see a reflection of themselves performing Hiplet with such grace, control, passion, and empowerment is a powerful reminder that ballet can be inclusive of any ethnicity, culture, shape or size. This is what Hiplet is all about! Classical ballet is Eurocentric. We are Afrocentric! 

Kindly note that this article was written during the 2020 pandemic. If you'd like to stay updated with the CMDC, Homer Bryant and the hiplet ballerinas, you can follow them on Instagram @hipletballerinas, @cmdc_school and @homerhbryant. The documentary for hiplet is also available on Amazon Prime and it is called Hiplet: Because We Can. For those who are able to donate, you may click here.